<Today’s post is best read to the accompaniment of “Si Firmir O Grido” by A Certain Ratio>
To be honest, it’s amazing that I’ve got this far into the close season without succumbing to temptation. We Arsenal fans, we do like a transfer rumour, a bit of a gossip over the electronic garden fence a la Messrs Dawson and Kinnear.
And for once, we going into this World Cup not with our faces against the window, steaming up the glass with the hot breath from our noses. This time we’ve got our place in the queue and they are going to let us into the shop. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re going to spend anything but at least this time we can touch the merchandise.
Or that’s how we perceive the situation to be; will, I wonder, Ivan Gazidis in his forthcoming Q&A, seek to quell the burning fires of ambition and underplay the club’s ability to spend in the transfer market, citing the murky waters of wages, agents’ fees and other ancillary costs that diminish the pot of gold being jealously guarded by Arsenal’s tame leprechaun?
To be facing an audience studying his every tic and word minutely is a double-edged sword for the CEO. Every word will twist in the social media breeze, bend and be misshapen beyond recognition by the morning. There’s nothing Gazidis can do about that beyond relatively bland utterances but will they be enough to keep desires in check? Indeed, perhaps the question is whether Arsenal should keep hopes, aspirations and expectations in check? Football is after all, an industry that thrives, indeed excels, at profiting from rumour. Arsenal will be hoping momentum can be built with tickets to be sold for The Emirates Shindig; they want people to take a punt on new signings being on show for those matches.
Ivan will no doubt push the positive aspect of Arsène’s new contract. If you push to one side your personal views on whether a new deal is the right thing for the club, Wenger’s decision is a double-edged sword for him personally. However he is remembered will be shaped by the next three years; more of the same of the last few years and it will, over time, become a stay too long. Re-establish Arsenal as challengers, the tag ‘genius’ will be applied. It’s something which he would have considered and for that reason, I believe we should be confident of investment in the summer. He won’t want his legacy to be a descent out of the top four, a target he has placed so much store in.
For the past few seasons, there has been a groundswell of hope that on these evenings Ivan will announce a new signing. It won’t happen although why Serge Aurier is not already an Arsenal player is beyond me. Short of walking naked down Islington High Street with nothing for company but a sandwich board pronouncing, “The End Of The World Is Nigh If I Don’t Sign For Arsenal”, it’s hard to see what more he can do to get a contract at the club. It would be no surprise if he has not founded The Church of Wenger and appointed himself High Priest. A quick win as Arsenal seek to replace Bacary Sagna but this is Arsenal, do we do quick wins? It’s not a tricky signing as Arsène should able to walk freely amongst all the World Cup squads having cleverly disguised himself as an analyst for French TV.
The replacement of Sagna has been an object lesson in how media speculation works. Its face value with the full back’s versatility across the back four overlooked. We don’t need cover at left back with Gibbs and Monreal whilst so long as Vermaelen is fit, Arsenal could get away with three experienced centre backs in the squad so long as Arsène has complete confidence in youth. That remains to be seen with Miquel gaining experience on loan but when a youngster goes away from the club, you are never quite sure if it is to continue his education at a faster pace, to see how adaptable they are to differing styles of play or if they are quite simply going into the shop window.
Recent days have seen goalkeepers coming to the fore, David Ospina will no doubt be inspired between the Colombian sticks now that he knows his £3.5m deal at Arsenal is on the line. We’re not interested in how he played for his club, no, just on his international performances this summer. It leaves you hoping that Arsène isn’t suckered into the Poborsky trap and seduced by one good moment in a tournament, ruing his rashness over the next three years. Of course, this interest is a blow to David Marshall of Cardiff who was touted to challenge Szczesny for his first XI spot. At least John Ruddy has a chance being England’s third choice goalkeeper. Actually he probably does if a repeat of the hapless Rob Green’s performance in South Africa, occurs. I am sure at some point a link with Iker Casillas will arise as well, he is known to be keen to try his hand at the League Cup now he has won just about very honour in the game.
That’s a point actually. The League Cup: diminished status through disrespect shown by managers or the fact that they don’t give tankards to the winners anymore? Discuss.
Which brings us to the midfield. Pfft, forget the love for Reus. Draxler is chip paper. You can Witsel if you think Axel is joining and as much as the commercial department may think that Lars or Sven – with tippex and a red felt tip – will shift the Bendtner mountain of shirts, it is unlikely to happen. At least there’s no chance of him signing the wrong one since injury has ruled them out of the German squad.
But there’s only one midfielder anybody is interested in chatting about. Whether it’s even vaguely sensible or worthwhile is another matter. The sheer number of – and unashamed way that – people are prostrating themselves at Cesc Fabregas’ feet is unseemly. Panic struck quickly and you sense it will only subside if Arsène gives a similarly definitive statement about his protégé’s future. It seems no lessons have been learned from Manchester United’s risible trailing of Fabregas down the garden path last summer. It signalled the downfall of Rome under Julius Moyes. Perhaps Nero Moyes is more appropriate as United’s title defence burned, he was fiddling about) but that took a couple of months to become entirely apparent.
There is a sense that history is repeating itself. Cesc is apparently available for £30m with Barcelona holding out for £32.5m. Those values put paid to the rumoured buyback value of £35m that Arsenal put into the contract when we sold him. Or at least the urban myth says that we put that value into the contract, nobody has ever proven it exists with many contrary claims disputing this belief.
The question is not whether the romantic vision of the past haunts the future, where unrequited love is finally returned but more to the point, do Arsenal actually need Cesc? Is signing the Spanish international part of a cohesive plan to strengthen the squad or opportunistic stockpiling of talent to stop him going to rivals? I find the overstated desire for his return distasteful. Let’s not forget that he engineered his move away in the first place; the way some talk anyone who didn’t know the background would swear Fabregas had been sold against his will and taken to the Camp Nou, screaming and crying for Arsène to take him home.
The flip side of that is, of course, the injury curse. We missed Theo Walcott, we missed Özil, Ramsey, and Wilshere when they were out. We could quite easily produce an argument that signing him is merely adding to the squad depth on that basis, even if his hamstrings suffer a recurrence of the problem which blighted his closing months at the club. After all, many of us criticised Arsène for not investing in January for that reason, the lack of replacements curtailing a title challenge. We can salivate all we like about the creative genius in midfield that Fabregas’ addition would give us but if we don’t have the firepower up front, the variety and support for Giroud, then creativity means nothing much at all.
It’s simple, we need more depth up front. Big names – Cavani, Costa – are still out of Arsenal’s financial reach which is why the stories linking us with Loic Remy are so hard to disbelieve. Many believe we don’t need a big name striker and Remy has one of the shortest names in football at the moment. He linked well with Giroud at international level – well, according to the reports of friendly against Paraguay – and has the versatility to play across the Arsenal frontline. He looked good for Newcastle at times last season which is not much of a recommendation given they were so awful for large chunks of the season. Is he going to push Giroud to the next level? That’s hard to say; the most telling comment that the Arsenal striker made last summer was that he didn’t fear Suarez joining, he felt he was safe in the starting line-up. Higuain was a different matter; that concerned him. I suspect that Benzema would provoke a similar reaction.
At £13.5m, Remy is not cheap but he is affordable. It also stops Arsène looking at old boys, a habit that leaves me fearful of the prospect of Nicklas Bendtner re-joining at some point. Savour that thought for a moment and then seriously think about whether you want the prospect of Carlos Vela returning to Arsenal? Supporters have gone a bit soft in their dotage. Vela could not adapt to the physicality of the English game at the club when he was here previously, there is nothing to suggest he can now either, as good as his statistics were in La Liga last season. Antoine Griezman had a good season as well, not quite as prolific as Vela but I wonder if either of these two are really a target? If they are, I don’t see them offering the quantity of goals that Arsenal lacked last time around. If either arrives, I would also question whether Lukas Podolski is staying. The German is a fan-favourite and I like him as a player but I don’t think he produced enough last season to change Arsène’s mind that he has a future as a central striker
Watching the matches with half a scouting eye is all part of the fun of the World Cup and let’s face it, whilst I would love him to sign the next Maradona, as long as he doesn’t sign the next Francis Jeffers, I’ll be happy.